Hey, I’m Courtney and I’m a commercial beauty photographer located in Los Angeles. I was pretty excited when Brad asked me to do a guest blog, simply because I respect the Kelby Blog and its audience so much.

A bit about me: I’m originally from The Detroit Suburbs. I started my photo business in 2004, in Pontiac, Michigan. After about two years of fighting my way in a small competitive market, I set my eyes on a bigger prize. I had to move to a bigger market! NYC or LA? My sole determining factor of choosing LA, was its zillion sunny days and lack of snow. I know SO many of you feel me on this. Now I’ve been in LA for nearly 9 years and I’ve fine-tuned my studio down to one genre: I shoot beauty editorials, campaigns and e-comm for health and beauty companies. Basically, I get to work with gorgeous women all day and make money doing it. Not a bad gig at all!


Cosmopolitan Mexico


Allure Russia


Campaign image for a Fashionable health and beauty line

Back a few years ago, I had an opportunity to teach on the photography tradeshow and workshop speaking circuit. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. But, I had 10 years of professional work under my belt and many war stories. After years of fighting in the trenches with contracts, NDAs, and painful negotiations, I felt I was ready to guide others on how to close deals and how to not be taken advantage. That’s when I launched PhotoBeautyCoach.com, my coaching site. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a trend in the most common topic I deal with in Skype sessions, “Licensing Images for Commercial Use.”

With the rise of social media, and specifically Instagram, the business is changing rapidly. But I always advise photographers to stay true to their business, aka don’t be a sellout.

Let’s say you are a portrait photographer in Omaha, Nebraska and you are contacted by a large mall store chain. Their email fluffs your ego as they gush about an image on your website. They would absolutely love to “feature” you in their next catalog, campaign, mailing; pick your poison. For this use, they will offer you a gift card, exposure or maybe a t-shirt. I use this as an example, simply because I see and hear of this scenario weekly.

This is where it all begins, This is where you set yourself apart from the others. Time to negotiate.


Temptu Cosmetics

Personally, I would never move forward with a large company offering me payment in something so small, for so something so large. It’s insulting, and exposure equals nothing. A t-shirt costs them most likely $2. I have YET to see exposure work in the real world. And you’re worth more than $2.

Before you even consider to think about what the use means to you and your business a few questions MUST be asked.

I'll walk you through the process of getting the information you need to make it worth your time for someone else to benefit from your hard work. Because no one should profit from your work, unless you're profiting too!

Footnote: Im just barely touching upon this.  These are the questions I advise my clients to get answers to before I Skype with them. 

FIRST: COPYRIGHT THE IMAGE IN QUESTION
I CANNOT stress this more. Do not negotiate until the Copyright Office have been paid $35 and it’s processing your claim. It takes 10-15 minutes and will save you a huge nightmare later! Also, if there are clients in this photo in question, look for your release STAT.

Second: Now what to ask the buyer?
You need to rank the client in order to set your fee - Are they are an ad agency, editorial, direct client, mom and pop shop, individual, etc.? I’m much more flexible for an upstart or mom and pop shop than I am for a large company. If they have a giant budget, they should have a proper budget to pay for use. I was recently contacted by a well known dentist in Detroit to do work for his billboards. Five billboards along the side of every major freeway in the area. $150 budget. Thanks, but no thanks. The way I see it is, if someone is going to market and make money off my images, I should be compensated fairly. I took the time to explain my estimate and why I charge what I do. (Every opportunity I see to educate a client, I do!)

Third: Licensing
Ask how exactly will the image(s) be used. Here are factors to consider when estimating:

  • What is the use?  Print Ad, trade ad, packaging, direct mail, billboards, Brochures – single use or multiple use?
  • What is the circulation? Local, state, regional, national, international?
  • What is the frequency?
  • What is length of the desired license? 1-2 years max Is advisable
  • Would they like the image to be used exclusively by their company (i.e. can you sell it to others or do they want to be the only entity using it?)

Now, take the time to consider all information given, and to think about where you’d be comfortable. Knowing what you know now for use, that sweet t-shirt that was offered might seem really uncool. So many companies are not very transparent when it comes to facts. They are hoping their charm will woo you. Look away from the shiny red t-shirt, and focus your attention on your worth.

Draw up a proper estimate. I use BlinkBid for my bids and invoicing. You can also use Quickbooks or other invoicing programs. What makes BlinkBid my personal choice is it has a built-in Bid Consultant that gives a range for pricing based on many of the questions asked above. Sometimes on larger bids, it really helps me find my target. Also, searching stock archives and seeing their pricing can help give you a gauge of where you should look to put your decimal in the amount. Note: do not look at Microstock for pricing. Microstock is sold over and over, and isn’t exclusive. Getting estimated rates there will only make you sad.

I promise I’m not sponsored by them. It has just been a lifesaver!

After you determine what your pricing should be, issue a PSD estimate and send it to the client. Use a friendly, but professional tone, explaining your rate and the terms of use. Ask them if they have any questions. Often they will come back with either a, “This sounds great!” or a, “This is outside our budget.” If it’s outside their budget, respond with, “Let me see if I can work within your budget. What is your range for this placement?” and most certainly they will come back with a dollar sum that is much more then that t-shirt.

It is now up to you, if the price is right for your business.

Warmest regards and Happy Bidding,
Courtney Dailey

You can see more of Courtney’s work at CourtneyDailey.com, check out her coaching website at PhotoBeautyCoach.com, and follow her on InstagramTwitter and Facebook. If you’d like to learn from her in person, you can register for her upcoming Las Vegas workshop, Wondergloss! Use the promo code GLOSS to save $200 when you register!

The views and opinions expressed in the Guest Blog series are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scott Kelby or Kelby Media Group.

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16 Comments

  1. This is a great post with lots of information. Brilliant photography! I am a big fan of Blinkbid as well. They support is excellent!

  2. To summarize, it is okay to:
    – turn down work
    – demand your worth
    – not fall for the ‘exposure’ excuse (i.e., You scratch my back, I’ll step on yours.)
    – negotiate your worth for special interests that are important to you, or small business that may not have a budget

    Note: fotoQuote is another application to help determine a photographs value and licensing.

  3. Great post, Courtney!! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience in a very readable/user-friendly article.

    • Ive yet to have ‘exposure’, work for me. In fact, I find even with credit, it seems the only people who look at credits are fellow photographers!

  4. Great post! I agree with every word. I’ve been a professional photographer for almost ten years and I’ve had countless ‘opportunities’ to basically give my work away for nothing. Sometimes the offer might even be tempting, but the bottom line is, if you aren’t getting paid and credited properly for your work, it’s never worth it.

  5. Great info. I started out by giving away lots and lots of shoots, borne out of desperation. When you are transitioning, it is very tempting to go for ‘exposure’.

    • I agree. Well there’s one thing to be said for building your book, but the minute someone wants to make money off my work, show me the money!

  6. A quick note: On May 1, 2014, online Copyright submission fees went up to $55 from the $35 it had been.

    • BAH! I missed that memo. I guess I dont pay that much attention to pressing the button. Thank you for this update! Still, $55 is a small investment when copyright is involved. I copyright-bi monthly, all my new content.

  7. I’m confused, I was under the impression that it’s generally understood that the photographer owns the copyright ‘by default’ why pay money to the copyright office ?

    • I was under the same impression, until my first major copyright infringement case. In the eyes of the law, you MUST have it registered. It’s the difference of having the ability of getting “actual damages” or “statutory damages”. The courts usually calculate actual damages based on normal license fees or the industry standard. The little document, gives you the ability to go after $150,000 versus $7000, like my actual damages added up to be. After you’ve paid your attorney, actual damages almost make it not worth it.

  8. Excellent post! I agree along with every word. I’ve been an expert photographer
    for almost 10 years and I’ve had numerous.

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